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There Were No Transgender Characters in 2020’s Major Films

In 2021, it seems clear that representation matters. And while we’re seeing more diversity and inclusion efforts everywhere — from the workplace to what we see on TV — there’s still a long way to go. According to GLAAD’s annual Studio Responsibility Index, which measures how major film studios meaningfully included LGBTQ characters in the previous year’s releases, that’s particularly true for transgender people on the big screen.

In their 2021 report, which looks at all 44 major films released in 2020, GLAAD found that for the fourth year in a row there were no transgender or nonbinary characters in theatrical releases. While the report notes that television has progressed in both its inclusion and portrayal of transgender and nonbinary people, the major film studios seem to remain stagnant. The last time GLAAD recorded a transgender character released by one of these studios was in 2016 — an offensive caricature in Zoolander 2.

The reasons representation is necessary are many — seeing LGBTQ people on screen normalizes them, defuses stereotypes and stigma, and shows LGBTQ people that they deserve to have their stories told, among other important benefits. But by excluding transgender people from this representation, studios are not just doing a disservice to trans people and the rich stories they have to tell, but also missing out on a growing audience. According to the report, 12% of Americans ages 18-34 identify as transgender or gender non-conforming.

“We know that LGBTQ audiences are a powerful and invested audience – and a quickly growing one – as we see more and more people empowered to live their authentic lives. The power, passion, and growth of LGBTQ audiences proves that if studios wish to be successful in retaining and expanding fans, they must tell meaningful queer and trans stories,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis, in a statement.

The news isn’t all bad, though. Overall LGBTQ representation increased among the major studio films in 2020, with 22.7% of films including LGBTQ characters. That’s up from 2019’s 18.6%. (It should, however, be noted that COVID-19 severely limited the number of films released theatrically in 2020. There were 118 films released in 2019, compared to 44 in 2020, according to the report.) The amount of time these characters spent on screen went up, and there were also more LGBTQ people of color represented in film, the report found.

Next year, GLAAD is hoping to improve numbers across the board.

“This is a critical time of transformation for Hollywood – challenged to redefine business lines and
practices during a global pandemic, driven by an increased demand from consumers hungry for new content, and rocked by the rightful reckoning and pressure for these studios to create more meaningful substantive change in representing and investing in marginalized communities,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “This transformation represents a great opportunity to swiftly accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ stories, break new ground, and invest in queer and trans talent and stories that audiences are eager to watch. Hollywood and the business of storytelling must be more nimble, more creative, more open than ever before.”

See the full report here.

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